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First Monday, Volume 12, Number 6 4 June 2007

Contents
Infrastructuraldynamics
Infrastructuraltensions
Heuristics,design,andtheinfrastructuralimagination
Conclusion:Thelongnowofcyberinfrastructure

Muchrecentworkoncyberinfrastructureorescience,bytheNationalScienceFoundationand
others,hasemphasizeditsnewness.Insuchaccounts,cyberinfrastructureisaboutnewwaysof
organizingthepracticeofscience,drawingonnewcomputationalresources,enablingnew
collaborativeandorganizationalforms,andultimatelynewformsofdiscoveryandlearning.
Thereisundoubtedlymuchtorecommendthisframing,andnoneofwhatfollowsisintendedto
refuteit.Butitisalsopossibletoplacecyberinfrastructureonadifferenttimeline(thatofthe
longnow,explainedbelow)andinadifferentcategory(thatofgeneralinfrastructure)inwhich
theemphasisisnotonnoveltybutcontinuityandconsistencywiththepast.Doingsohascertain
advantages,notleastofwhichistoopenupaterrainofcomparativelearningwhichwebelieve
canhelpguidepolicyandpracticearoundthemakingofcyberinfrastructure.That,roughly,isthe
strategyofthispaper.
Thetheoreticalapproaches,examples,andsomeoftheargumentsofferedheredrawheavily
fromthefieldofscienceandtechnologystudies(STS),buildingonwhatarenowseveraldecades
ofworkinthesociology,history,philosophy,anthropology,communicationandgovernanceof
scienceandtechnology.Moreimmediately,theyreflectthefindingsofanNSFsponsored
workshop,HistoryandTheoryofInfrastructure:LessonsforNewScientific
Cyberinfrastructures,organizedbytheauthorsinAnnArbor,Michiganduringfall2006.Manyof
theexamplesandargumentsadvancedheremaybefoundinmoredevelopedforminthefinal
workshopreport,UnderstandingInfrastructure:Dynamics,Tensions,andDesign[1].Asthe
workshopandlaterreportargued,whilehistoricalandcomparativestudiesofinfrastructureare
unlikelytodeliveranythingasneatasablueprintforaction,theycanandindeedshould
shapeandguidethinkingaboutpresenteffortsatinfrastructuraldevelopment,inthesciencesas
elsewhere.Thisatleastiswhatwehavesoughttowrestfromhistoricalandcomparativestudy:
notrules,butheuristicsnotamap,butprinciplesofnavigation.
Therearethreemainpurposesofthispaper:first,toarguefortheongoingrelevanceofhistory,
even(andperhapsespecially)inthecontextofseeminglyrevolutionaryorhistorybreaking
technologiessecond,topointtosomeofthespecificlessonsthatparalleleffortsatinfrastructure
building,bothpastandpresent,canofferusandthird,tobegintodistillfromthesesomerough
heuristics,orrulesfortheroad,thatpresentdaycyberinfrastructuredevelopersandusers
mightdowelltokeepinmindastheygoabouttheirwork.

Infrastructuraldynamics
Fromthevantagepointofthepresent,manyoftheinfrastructuresthatsupportandgovern
modernlives,societies,andworkpracticeswillappeardull,flat,andstill.Themoresettledthe
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infrastructure,thetruerthisfeels:wethinkaboutroadsuntilwecandriveeasilyonthem,and
thenpromptlyforget(untilpromptedbyaccidents,construction,andtrafficjamstothinkagain).
Wedrinkfromthemunicipalwatersupplyuntilwecant,thenthinkonceagainaboutwater.Once
here,effectiveinfrastructuresappearastimeless,unthought,evennaturalfeaturesof
contemporarylife.Thissortofnaturalizationandforgettingiscentraltotheeffectivenessand
deepvalueofinfrastructure,andisindeedoneofitshighestaspirations.Butitalsomakesit
challengingtorecallwhatisatstakewithinfrastructure(whichturnsouttobequitealot),orto
charttheprocessesbywhichinfrastructuresgrowandchange.Thisisanacademicproblemfor
professionalhistoriansandsocialscientistsforwouldbebuildersofinfrastructure,itisarguably
somethingmore.
Inthissection,wereviewagrowingbodyofevidencepointingtopatternsordynamicscommon
tothedevelopmentofmanyinfrastructuresovermanytimesandplaces.Fromthiswedistill
threegeneralarguments.First,effectiveinfrastructuresareaboveallaccomplishmentsofscale,
growingaslocallyconstructed,centrallycontrolledsystemsarelinkedorassembledinto
networksandinternetworksgovernedbydistributedcontrolandcoordinationprocesses.Second,
theextensionofinfrastructuretypicallyfollowsacomplexpathoftransferortranslationfromone
locationordomaintoanother.Toachievethis,multiplethingsmayberequiredtomoveor
change:technologiesthemselves(asindicatedinthetermtechnologytransfer),butalsosocial,
cultural,organizational,legal,andinstitutionalpractices.Fittingthesedisparateelements
togetherrequiressignificantandrarelystraightforwardprocessesofadaptationandmutual
adjustment.Third,theassemblingandeffectivecohesionofworkinginfrastructureisfrequently
accomplishedbymeansofgateways,i.e.materialorsocialtechnologies(e.g.standardsand
protocols)thatpermitthelinkingofheterogeneoussystemsintonetworksandinternetworks.
Thesefeaturesinturnleadtoanumberofcommonfeaturesandpatternsinthehistoryof
infrastructuraldevelopment,includingdynamiceffectssuchaspathdependency,momentum,
andreversesaliency.Eachofthesepointsisexplainedanddiscussedintheparagraphsthat
follow.
Oneofthemostcarefulandsuggestiveaccountsofinfrastructuraldevelopmenttodatecomes
fromhistorianThomasHughesNetworksofPower,ananalysisoftheearlydevelopmentof
electricalpowerintheUnitedStatesandWesternEurope[2].Hugheswork,andthatofthe
LargeTechnicalSystems(LTS)schoolthatfollowed[3],providesacompellingaccountofthe
wayinwhichtechnicalsystems(asopposedtoisolatedtechnologies)arebroughtintobeing,
stabilized,andextendedovertime.Keytothisprocessaresystembuildersindividuals,
teams,orinsomecasesinstitutionscapablenotonlyofproducinggroundbreakinginventions,
butalsoimaginingandbringingintobeingthethelargeensemblesoftechniques,practices,
institutions,andothertechnologiesneededtosupportandsustainthem.Therangeofthis
systembuildingworkdemandsskillandcarewithinmultipleregisters:technical,butalso
organizational,social,institutional,etc.Successfulsystembuildersmustthereforeactas
heterogeneousengineers,workingtogethernotonlytechnologiesandthematerialworld,but
alsopeople,organizations,values,knowledge,andexpectations[4].Acanonicalexamplehereis
ThomasEdisonsroleinthehistoryofelectricity.Otherinventorshadalreadyhituponlight
bulbswhatsetEdisonapartwashisconceptionofacomprehensivelightingsystem,including
generators,cables,andlightbulbs,dedicatedabovealltotheprovisionofanintegratedsystem
ofelectricallighting.Parallelexamplesmaybefoundintheearlyroleofcompaniessuchas
UnivacandIBMinproducingnotjustdigitalcomputers,butanintegrateddataprocessing
system,builtaroundasuiteofinput,output,andstoragedevices,butalsosoftware,training,and
avarietyofcustomerservices.(ThishistoryisreflectedinIBMsrecentembraceofservicesas
thecenterofitsbusinessmodel).
Onceestablishedlocally,successfulsystemsmayundergocomplexprocessesoftransfer,
adaptation,andgrowthastheyareextendedtootherplaces,domains,andcommunitiesofuse.
Thisrarelyifevertakestheformofawholesaletransplantorsimplecopying.Instead,systems
gothroughsubtletransformationsastheyextendtonewlegal,institutional,social,andcultural
environments,producingvariationsinwhatHughescallstechnologicalstyle(roughly,the
distinctivelookandfeelofthesametechnicalsystemasitappearsindifferinglocaland
nationalcontexts).Momentsoftechnologytransferarealsomarkedbytheappearanceofnew
challengesandconstituencies.Prominentamongtheformerarechallengesofscale,assystems
designedandimaginedwithindiscretelimitsarecalledupontosustainactivitiesofan
undesignedforsize,scope,nature,andintensity.Atthesametime,transferoftenbringsinto
sharpreliefconflictsandincompatibilitieswithneighboringoralternativesystems,andmaybe
thesiteofparticularlyintensebattlesoverinstitutionalandcommercialstanding,community
normsandexpectations,andthedefinitionandscopeofstandards.Thetransferprocessalso
seesthecastofstakeholdersexpanddramatically,includingtheriseofnewuserclasses,both
realandpotential,whobegintoplayanimportantroleindefiningthefuturedevelopmentor
nondevelopmentofthesystem.
Theseprocessesofsystemformationandtransfermayeventuallyleadtowhathistoriansinthe
LTStraditionhaveidentifiedasconsolidation,markedbyaneventualmergerorrapprochement
betweensystemsthatallowssmooth,reliable,andrelativelyrobustinteroperationacrossthe
breadthofthetechnologiesandsocialworldsinquestion.Inrarecases,thisisachievedthrough
theoutrightvictoryofonesystemoveranother.Morecommonly,consolidationisachieved
throughthedevelopmentofstrategicintermediaries,orgateways:technologies,organizational
solutions,and/orprotocolsforinterconnectionthatallowformobility,conversation,andtraffic
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betweenotherwiseincompatiblesystems.Examplesoftechnicalgatewaysmaybefoundinthe
adaptorsandconvertersthatallowappliancesdesignedforonepartoftheworldtoworkwiththe
voltagesandplugsizesfoundinothers.Standardizationinitsvariousguises(formaland
informal,topdownandbottomup)isperhapstheleadingexampleofagatewaytechnologyon
thesocial/organizationalside,andisacrucialsiteormomentininfrastructuraldevelopment
moregenerally[5].Itisatthispointofheterogeneousconnectionamongsystemsthatthe
eventualpower,scope,andworldbuildingqualityofinfrastructurebeginstotakeshape.
Embeddedintheroughpathtracedaboveareanumberofspecificdynamicsofnote.Thefirstof
theseistheexistenceandsignificanceofwhatHugheshastermedreversesalients:the
particularlyintractablechallenges,limits,orstickingpointsonwhichbroadscalesystem
developmentgroundsandstalls.Thesemaybetechnicalinnature(e.g.theapparentscarcityof
wavelengthsavailableforefficientovertheairsignaltransmissionthelossinessoflong
distancepowertransmission).Buttheymayalsobeorganizational,social,orlegal(e.g.
challengesinassigningcreditwithinvastlydistributedscientificenterprisestheinnovation
constrainingeffectsofpatentthickets(seeClarkson,thisissue).Reversesalientsshape
infrastructuraldynamicsinatleasttwoimportantways.First,theymayhelpexplainandpredict
alterationsinpace,betweenperiodsofsloworincrementalchange(whereunresolvedreverse
salientsobstructbroadscaledevelopment)andperiodsofrapidandmultifaceteddevelopment
asthefrictionorstickinessofaparticularreversesalientisreleased.Second,reverse
salientsmayactaskeydeflectionpointsinparticularinfrastructuralhistories,pointingsystemsin
significantlydifferentdirectionsaccordingtothemanneroftheirresolution.
Thecumulativenatureofinfrastructuraldevelopment,togetherwiththenumberanddepthofits
tiestothetechnicalandsocialworldsaroundit(thinkhereofthenumberandrangeof
connectionsneededforanoperatingsystemtofitthehardwareprofiles,applications,institutional
structures,anduserneedsandcompetenciesaroundit)meansthatoncesetinplaceorin
motion,infrastructurestakeondistinctiveinertialqualities.Historianshaveperiodicallyreferred
tothisunderthelanguageofmomentum,trajectories,orpathdependencies,pointingtothe
factthat,onceestablished,systemstendtocontinueinparticulardirections,makingreversalsor
wholesaleleapstoalternativeapproachescostly,difficult,andinsomecasesimpossible.
Becauseofthis,earlytechnicalchoices(includingsomerelativelycasualorarbitraryones)have
atendencytogetreinforcedassubsequentsystemelementsarebuiltaroundorontopofthem.
AnoftcitedexampleofthisisthecaseoftheQWERTYkeyboard,putativelyinferiortoother
keyboardlayoutsandtypingsystems(e.g.DVORAK),butheldinplaceformorethanacentury
(andthroughmultiplegenerationsofkeyboardingmachines,includingmoderncomputers)
throughavarietyofexternalitiesandnetworkeffects[6].Abroadlyparallelstorycanbetoldof
thewayinwhichearlydecisionsbycomputerprogrammersaroundtheefficientcodingofdates
ledtowhatwouldeventuallybethemassivelyinefficientY2Kproblem.Inthisway,system
elements(andlaterinfrastructures)maybecomelockedinbythegatheringweightofthe
systemitselfoncegrooved,infrastructuresbecomehardtoshiftordisplace.
Finally,itshouldbenotedthatmanyinfrastructures(includingmostofthoseinthe
cyberinfrastructureandbroaderITrealm)arethemselvesdeeplyembeddedwithinand
dependentonotherinfrastructures.AclassicexamplehereistheultimatedependenceofIT
systemsonareliableelectricalgrid.Thisconnection,often(thoughinouropinionincorrectly)
takenforgrantedinaNorthAmericancontext,isexperiencedasanacutechallengeby,for
example,wouldbeITsystembuildersinlargepartsofAfrica.Inthisregard,infrastructures
frequentlyexhibitalayeredquality,withsecondordersystemsorvirtualinfrastructuresbuilt
ontopofpriororestablishedinfrastructures.Keyexamplesherewouldincludethewayinwhich
theWorldWideWebsitsontopoftheInternetthecontinueddependenceofcellulartelephony
onsignificantaspectsofthelandlinegridandtheintertwinedhistoriesofrailandtelegraph
networksfromthemidnineteenthcenturyon.Suchbackandforthconnectionsbetween
adjacentand/orsupportivesystemsmayfunctionasanadditionalsourceandshaperof
infrastructuraldynamics.

Infrastructuraltensions
Inadditiontothepatternsanddynamicsnotedabove,infrastructuresofalltypeshave
encounteredandprovokedsomedeeplyfelttensions.Incontrasttotheplacidappearanceof
settledinfrastructures,infrastructuresintheirmomentsofformationcanbesitesofintense
conflict,throughwhichtheidentityandstatusofrelevantstakeholders,thedistributionofbenefits
andlosses,andthegeneralrulesofthegameareallbeingworkedoutsimultaneously.Insuch
periods,infrastructuresappearasdistinctlyagonisticphenomena,imagined,produced,
challengedandrefinedinanunevenanddeeplyconflictualfield.
Tobegin,acrossvirtuallyeverytypeandclassofemergentinfrastructurewecanidentify
provisionalwinnersandlosersthosewhosepositions,programs,workexperiences,or
generalqualitiesoflifeareenhanced(orconversely,challengedandundermined)bythe
developinginfrastructure.Clearexamplescanbefoundinthenineteenthcenturytownsthrough
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whichraillinesdidanddidntpass,theformerrisingtoprominenceinthereorganizedeconomic
geographyoftheAmericanWest,thelatterfadingtoshadowyremindersofpastimportance.Or
again,thevariableexperiencesoftwentiethcenturyfactoryautomation(andlater,
computerization)strategies,throughwhichmanagerialandtechnicalgroupsgainnewcontrol
overtheproductionprocess,whilecertainclassesoftradeandunskilledworkersseetheir
workplacepowerandemploymentprospectsshrink.Theseandotherexamplesremindusthat
emergentinfrastructureswilloftenhaveimportantdistributionalconsequences,reorganizing
resourceflowsandopportunitiesforactionacrossscalesrangingfromthelocalworkplacetothe
globaleconomy.Shorttermexperiencesandlongtermexpectationsofgainandlosswillshape
theincentivestructuresofindividualsandinstitutionstaskedwithrespondingtoinfrastructural
change.Thisinturnwillshapethesocialandinstitutionalclimatesinwhichinfrastructures
struggletoemerge:broadlyreceptive,withalliesaddingsupportandinnovationateveryturn?
Oropenlyorcovertlyhostile,withstakeholdersandprospectiveusergroupsdraggingtheir
heels,activelyopposing,advancingcounterprojects,orsimplyrefusingtoplayalong?
Theunevendistributionalconsequencesofinfrastructuralchangearematched,notsurprisingly,
bydiscrepanciesinthefundamentalexperienceandvisionofinfrastructure.Inthestudyand
practiceofinfrastructuraldevelopmenttodate,therehasbeenanunfortunatetendencyto
emphasizewhatmaybetheexcessivelyneatenedandorderlyviewsofsystembuilders,oftento
theexclusionofother,morepartial,perspectives.Anexamplecanbefoundintheuneasy
relationbetweendesignassumptionsanduserexpectations,whichhasoccasionallyledto
questioning,openingup,and/oruserrevoltsaroundparticularkindsofinfrastructure.Moreoften,
thedesignusedisconnectisevidencedinneglect,asambitiousandwellintentionedsystems
languishontheshelvesordesktopsofusersoptingforalternative(perhapslocal,perhaps
kluged)solutions.
Additionaltensionsmaybeidentifiedwherechanginginfrastructuresbumpupagainstthe
constraintsofpoliticaleconomy,intheformofinvestmentmodels,propertyregimes,and
competingpolicyobjectives(thesubjectofseveralofthecontributionstothisissue).The
pervasiveandfoundationalcharacterofmanymoderninfrastructures(e.g.road,rail,water,and
energysystems)hasoftenbeenassociatedwithacommonslikeorquasipublicgoodstatus,
leadingthemtobeundertakenonthebasisofpublicinvestment.Morerecently,especiallybut
notexclusivelyintheUnitedStates,publicinvestmentmodelshavecomeundersomeattack,
andthereisincreasingpressuretoconstrainspendingand/orpartnerwithindustryinways
arguedtopromoteefficiencyandinnovation.GeographersGrahamandMarvinhavereferredto
thisasthesplinteringofthemoderninfrastructuralideal[7].Atthesametime,newandhighly
distributeddevelopmentmodels(suchastheopensourcemovement)haveappeared,offering
whatsomehavearguedareattractivealternativestocentralizedandtopdowndevelopment
forms.Whilesuchmodelsshouldbecarefullyconsideredandexplored,itshouldberecalledthat
mostnowmatureinfrastructuresintheU.S.andelsewherewerebuiltthroughcollective
investmentsorientedtoapublicgoodlogic.Sometimesthiswasachievedthroughstrategic
pairingsofprivateownershipandregulatoryoversight(forexample,thesystemofregulated
monopolyandtheoldAT&T,remarkablysuccessfulatextendingtheinfrastructureoftelephony
acrosstheU.S.intheearlytomidtwentiethcentury).Inothercases,largescaleinfrastructure
wasfunded,shaped,anddrivendirectlybythestate,ofteninresponsetodemandsofnational
securityand/oreconomiccompetitiveness(forexample,theInternet,dependentthroughits
formativeyearsonanalmostexclusivedietofDARPAandlaterNSFmoney).Totheextentthat
targetedpublicmoniesremainanimportantsparkandcatalystforinfrastructuraldevelopment,a
keylongtermchallengeforAmericanCIproponentswillbetoarticulateacompellingand
forwardthinkingpublicinvestmentrationaleforcyberinfrastructure.
Developinginfrastructurescanfacesimilarchallengesanddisconnectsvisvisexisting
institutional,legal,andpropertyregimes.Aclassiccaseoftheformeristhewayinwhichthe
problemsfacedinorganizingacontinentalrailnetworkchallengedexistingbusinessandlegal
forms,andultimatelygaverisetothefirstroughtemplateofthemoderncorporation.Inamore
contemporaryvein,practicesofdatahandling,sharing,andtheextendedcollaborativeforms
pursuedundertheNSFcyberinfrastructurevisionmayposenewchallengestotheregimesof
intellectualpropertyoperativewithinscience.Beyondtensionstiedtotheinternalculturesand
careerstructuresofscience(asexploredbelow),sortingoutformalquestionsofownershipin
vastlydistributedprojectsmaybeanacutesourceoftension,particularlyinfieldswherethe
commercializationofresearchresultsiscommonplace.Who(ifanyone)istoowntheresultsof
deeplycollaborativework,andbywhatmechanismscanorshoulddownstreamrevenuesfrom
suchworkbedistributed?Howfarshouldpropertyinrawdataextend,whenthereworkingof
communityrepositoriesleadstonewresults?Suchconcernsarelikelytomultiplywiththeadvent
oftheincreasinglynetworkedandcollaborativeformsofresearchcalledforundertheNSF
cyberinfrastructurevision.
Anadditionalclassoftensionsmaybefoundincompetingpolicyinterestsatthe
national/transnationaljunction.Astheabovediscussionsuggests,thenationstatehas
historicallybeenthesinglemostimportantcontainerforthedevelopmentofinfrastructure:its
mostcommongeographicscale,itsprincipalfinancier,andinalmostallcasestheultimatesource
ofitsgovernance.Atthesametime,agooddealofthepowerofinfrastructureliesinitsabilityto
connectaboveorbeyondthelevelofthestate(notethatmanyofthegatewaysdescribed
abovearedesignedtobridgethegulfbetweennationallydefinedsystems).Thissetsupa
potentialconflict,frequentlyrealized,betweentheobjectivesofnationaladvantageandthoseof
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transnationalconnection.Insomecases,discrepanciesbetweennationalinfrastructuresare
moreorlessaccidentsofhistory,theproductofparallelbutdisconnecteddevelopmentrather
thananyparticularconsciousorstrategicintent.Inothers,thedisconnectordecouplingis
consciouslyandstrategicallypursued,oftenforreasonsofnationalsecurity(e.g.thevaryingrail
gaugesofEurope,designedinparttothwarttheadvanceofpotentialenemyarmies)or
economicadvantage(e.g.theenduringdivisionbetweenNorthAmerican(NTSC),panEuropean
(PAL),andFrench(SECAM)colortelevisionstandards).Abroadlyparallelsetoftensionscanbe
seenintherelationshipbetweennationalsciencepolicyobjectivesandthetransnationalpullof
science.Putsimply,wherebroadscalenationalpolicyinterests(ineconomiccompetitiveness,
security,globalscientificleadership,etc.)stopatthebordersofthenationstate,thepracticeof
sciencespillsintotheworldatlarge,connectingresearchersandcommunitiesfrommultiple
institutionalandpoliticallocations.Totheextentthatcyberinfrastructureenablesanexpanded
suiteoftransnationalresearchcollaborations,suchnational/transnationaltensionsmayget
pickedupandreplayedattheprojectlevel.
Inadditiontosuchgeneraltensionsofinfrastructure,wemayidentifycertaintensionsendemic
totheworldofscientificinfrastructure.Asamatterofdailypractice,suchtensionsareveryoften
playedoutatthelevelofdata.Datarepresentsthefrontlineofcyberinfrastructuredevelopment:
itsmainsiteofoperation,itsmosttangibleoutput,andinsomeregardsthetargetofitshighest
ambitions.Fromthisperspective,cyberinfrastructureisprincipallyaboutdata:howtogetit,how
toshareit,howtostoreit,andhowtoleverageitintothemajordownstreamproducts
(knowledge,discoveries,learning,applications,etc.)wewantoursciencestoproduce.Atthe
sametime,thereissignificantvariation(bothwithinandacrossdisciplines)astowhatcountsas
data.Forsome,dataisfirstandforemostaquestionofthings:samples,specimens,collections.
Forothers,dataiswhatcomesoutofamodelorperhapsthemodelitself.Datamaybetactile,
visual,textual,numeric,tabular,classificatory,orstatistical.Datamaybeanintermediate
outcome,astepontheroadtohigherorderproductsofscience(publications,patents,etc.).Or
datamaybetheproductitself.Whereadisciplineorresearchprojectfitswithinthisspectrumwill
haveenormousconsequencesforitspositioningvisviscyberinfrastructure.Thisspecificity
aloneguaranteesthatcyberinfrastructureshouldandassuredlyneverwillbeasingularorunified
thing.
Additionaltensionscenterontheproblemofstorage,preservation,andeffectivecurationof
data.Insomesciences,thesheervolumeofdatacreatedonanongoingbasismakeseffective
dataretentionandbackupachallengeofthehighestorder.Thisraisesimportantquestionsof
formandgranularity.Howmuchdata,andinwhatform,mustonereasonablypreserveand
document?Theanswertothisistiedinturntoquestionsofshortandlongtermaudienceand
purpose.Isthedatameantonlytosupporttheworkinprogressofadistinctteamofresearchers
(whattheNSFsCyberinfrastructureVisiondocumentdefinesasaresearchcollection)?Isit
intendedforalarger,perhapsdomainlevelcommunity,andforuseoveramoderatelyextended
period(aresourcecollection)?Isitsaimwiderstill,pointingtovastandmultidisciplinary
teamsoverlongspansoftime(areferencecollection)?[8]Asthisprogressionsuggests,
questionsofpreservationbecomesteadilymorecomplicatedasprospectsforreusebeyondthe
immediatecontextofdataproductionareconsidered.Herethethornyproblemofmetadata
emerges:howmuchdataaboutdataisneededtosupportfutureuseandinterpretation?
Historicalsolutionstothisproblemhavebeendistinctlyhuman:beyondthethinaccountingof
journalarticlesandprojectreports,scientistscometonuancedassessmentsofthetechniques
andfindingsoftheircolleaguesbycorrespondence(now,typically,email),byhallwayor
dinnertimeconversationsduringsitevisitsoracademicconferences,byassessmentsof
personalandinstitutionalreputation,andthroughthecirculationofgraduatestudents,postdocs,
andfacultycolleagues.Foryearsnow,theNSFandotherfundershaveexhortedtheirgrantees
tocollectandpreservemetadataaprescriptionthathas,forthesamenumberofyears,been
routinelyignoredorunderperformed.Themetadataconundrumrepresentsaclassicmismatch
ofincentives:whileofclearvaluetothelargercommunity,metadatamayofferlittletonothing
tothosetaskedwithproducingitandmayprovecostlyandtimeintensivetoboot.Until
metadataandrobustsupportforreuseachievesamoresecureplacewithinthecreditsystemof
science,thisdynamicwillprovedifficulttoreverse.
Problemsofmetadataandreusearecloselylinkedtotensionsarounddatasharing,withinand
acrossdisciplinesafurtherfeatureandgoalofthecyberinfrastructurevision.Animportant
classoftensionscanbetracedtothesheerdatadiversitycitedabove:howdoesonedesign
toolswiththerangeandabilitytoaccommodateandtranslatebetweenthedistinctlydifferent
dataneedsofthevariousdomaincommunities?Evenwheretechnicalsolutionscanbedevised,
howcanparticipantsfromonedisciplinarycommunitymakesenseofdataproducedunderthe
verydifferentproceduresandunderstandingsofanother?Asworkinthefieldofscienceand
technologystudies(STS)hasdemonstrated,dataaretheproductofworkingepistemologiesthat
areveryoftenparticulartodisciplinary,geographic,orinstitutionallocations.Dataorientedtothe
needs,practices,andculturesoftheoceansciencesmightnotbeeasilyorautomatically
translatableintotheidiomandusagesofatmosphericscience(thoughasthisexamplesuggests,
relationsbetweenfieldsconvergingoncommonproblemscanbebuiltovertime).Beyondsuch
issuesofrecognitionandfit,questionsoftrustloomlarge.CanItrustthoseIsharemydatawith
tomakereasonableandappropriateuseofit,andonatimelinewhichdoesntjeopardizemy
owninterestsaroundpublication,credit,andpriority?Orconversely:canItrustthedataIm
getting,particularlyascollaborativewebswidenandmyfirsthandknowledgeofthedataandits
producersrecedes?Indomainfieldswithlongandrobusthistoriesofcollaboration,normsof
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sharingmaybewelladvanced,widespread,andhighlystructured.Inothers,thecollaborative
terrainmaybemoreuneven,andnormsandproceduresforsharingrelativelyilldefined.Where
uncertaintyexists,andwheretwodataculturescollide,eventhebestintentionedeffortsto
promotesharingviatechnicalororganizationalfixesareunlikelytosucceed.
Thepointoftheabovereviewofinfrastructuraltensions,bothofthegeneralvarietyandthose
endemictoscientificpractice,isnotthatscientificcyberinfrastructureisinitselfanimpossibility,
orthatthemorespecificgoalsoftheNSFscyberinfrastructureprogramareunattainableor
misplaced.Itisrathertopointtodistinctiveclassesortypesoftensionsuggestedby
comparativeandhistoricalexperienceasameansofinformingearlydecisionmakingaroundthe
imagination,planning,andimplementationofcyberinfrastructure.Itisalsotoidentifytensionsas
oneofthechiefsourcesofinfrastructuralchange,growth,andlearningovertime.Fromthis
perspective,tensionsoughttobeseenasbothbarriersandresourcesforinfrastructural
development,andleveragedfortheircontributionstolongtermqualitiesofinfrastructuralfit,
equity,andsustainability.

Heuristics,design,andtheinfrastructuralimagination
Inthediscussionssofar,wehaveaddressedinfrastructureasathing(orclassofthings)defined
bycertainqualitiesandcharacteristics:scale,scope,durability(orresilience),accessibility,anda
certainkindofreachovertime,space,andarangeofhumanandinstitutionalactivities.Auseful
summarydefinitioninthisveinisofferedbyStarandRuhleder,whodefineinfrastructureas
being:
Embeddedinotherstructures,socialarrangements,andtechnologies
Transparent(andlargelyinvisible)onceestablished,reappearingonlyatmomentsof
upheavalorbreakdown
Definedbyitsreachbeyondparticularspatialortemporallocations
Learnedasapartofmembershipwithinparticularprofessional,social,orcultural
communities
Deeplylinkedwithconventionsofpracticeandotherformsofroutinizedsocialaction
Builton,shapedandconstrainedbyitsrelationshiptoanalreadyinstalledbase
Fixedandchangedinmodularincrements,throughcomplexprocessesofnegotiationand
mutualadjustmentwithadjacentsystems,structures,andpractices[9].
Webelievethisapproachtodefiningandunderstandinginfrastructureisanalyticallypowerfuland
transportsacrossavarietyofscientificandnonscientificdomains.
Butifinfrastructurecanbeusefullydescribedasathing,itcanalso,webelieve,describea
sensibility:awayofthinkingandactingintheworldcapableofmovingbetweentheseparate
registersoftechnicalandsocialaction.Fromthispointofview,theworldislargely(thoughnot
infinitely)substitutable.Technologycan,undertherightconditions,standinforwhatmight
otherwisebeaccomplishedthroughhumanwork.Conversely,humannormsandinteractionscan
substitutefortechnicalfixes,sometimeswithextraordinaryefficiency.Abeautifulexampleofthis
variabilityisofferedbyBrunoLatoursstoryofthesleepingpoliceman.Thosedesiringto
controlexcessivespeedsontheroad(say,withinaneighborhoodoraroundaschool)may
constructanelaboratesystemofsignage,speedlimits,monitoring,andenforcement(e.g.police)
backedbysomeformofsanction(fines,orintheextreme,jailtime).Ortheymayopttosimply
installaspeedbump(inFrance,sleepingpoliceman).Theserepresenttwosignificantlydifferent
pathstoacommongoal,oneheavilysocialinnature(involvinglaws,courts,police,etc.),the
othermorepurelytechnical(thespeedbump)[10].Averysimilarstorycanbetoldaboutthe
relationbetweenlegalandtechnicalresponsestoreputedcopyrightinfringement,asseeninthe
currentDigitalRightsManagement(DRM)controversies[11].Thepointisnottofavoroneof
theseoveranotherinaglobalway(e.g.thattechnicalsolutionsarealwaysbetterthansocial
ones,orviceversa),butrathertorecognizetheirinterchangeability.Putdifferently,the
boundariesbetweenthesocialandtechnologicalarefluid,andcanoftenbeshiftedineither
direction.Theparticularqualityofthoughtrequiredtorecognizeandactonthiswecallthe
infrastructuralimagination:envisioningthefulfillmentoffunctionsbylinkingheterogeneous
systems(somenew,othersyettobebuilt),includinghumanactors,institutions,andprocedures,
movingbetweenthetechnicalandthesocialasneededtoachieve(andreenvision)thegoal.
Whatdoesallthismeanforthoseengagedinmakingandrespondingtopolicyaround
cyberinfrastructure?Asafirstpoint,manyofthehistories,dynamics,andapproachesoutlined
abovestandinpartial(butwethinkproductive)tensionwithaspirationstodesign.Thereisa
commontendencytospeakofdesigningorbuildingcyberinfrastructure,asifinfrastructures
(cyberorotherwise)canbebuiltstrictlyfromplan,inahighlyconscious,carefullycontrolled,
andfullydirectedsortofway.Acarefulandhistoricallyinformedstudyofinfrastructural
dynamicsandtensionsweighsagainstthis.Ifcyberinfrastructureistofollowanythinglikethe
historiesofelectricity,railroads,theInternet,etc.itseventualendsandformswillnotbefully
containedinitsbeginnings,butrathersubjecttochangethroughtheintricaciesofscaling,
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transfer,consolidation,etc.Borrowingthelanguageofcomplexsystems,cyberinfrastructureis
bestthoughtofasanemergentphenomenon,takingonproperties(someofthemsurprising)as
thesystemdevelops.Thisshiftingoremergentqualityfitsuneasilywithanarchitecturalor
planningvisionoftheworld(seeninlanguageandmetaphorsarounddesign,structure,
blueprints,etc.).Analternativeandwethinkbetterlanguagewouldbuildondifferentconcepts
andmetaphors,perhapsthoseofecology(nurturing,growing,etc.),perhapsthoseof
exploration.OurpersonalfavoritecomesfromMichelSerres,whoarguesthatmovingfromthe
sciencestothesocialsciencesandhumanities(butwemightsubstitutemovingbetweensocial
organizationandtechnicalinfrastructure)islikecrossingtheNorthwestPassage:seasonalshifts
inicemeanthatthevoyagecanbemade,butneverinthesamewaytwice.Undersuch
conditions,whatisneededarenotrigidmaps,butflexibleandcreativeprinciplesofnavigation
[12].
Againstthis,wemaynoteasecondfindingfromhistory:namely,thatinitialchoicesdomatter,
andcancontinuetoreverberatelongaftertheinitialconditionswhichshapedthemhavepassed.
Thisisthelessonofpathdependencyormomentum.Forpresentpolicyaround
cyberinfrastructure,thispointstotheimportanceofearlychoices,andtheneedtogetfirststeps
right(orasrightasweknowwithinthelimitsofpresentknowledge).Onceagain,thisrightness
appliesacrosstherangeofcyberinfrastructureactivity,fromtechnologies,toorganizations,to
institutionalregimes,tonormsandpractices.
Athirdlessoncanbefoundintheimportanceofgateways,aslocalsystemsandpracticesscale
towardsthelevelofinfrastructure.Thisisarguablythecurrentstateofcyberinfrastructure:aset
ofdiverseandinsomeinstanceshighlyinnovativeandrobustlocalsystemswithasyetweak
capacitiesforhigherorderconnection,coordination,andinteroperability.Undersuch
circumstances,gatewaysbecomecentrallyimportant:technologies,organizations,andpeople
capableofbridgingbetweendisparatesystems,practices,andworlds.Supportforsuchwork,
whichdoesntalwayslineupeasilyorautomaticallywithexistinginstitutionalandcareer
structures,willbecrucial.
Afourthandfinallessonhastodowiththeinevitableandproductiveroleoftensionsinthe
infrastructuraldevelopmentprocess.Thegrowthofinfrastructureisapowerfulandpotentially
transformativeprocess,notleastbecauseofitsredistributivenature:inmakingsomethings
easier,infrastructureswillfrequentlymakeothersharder(orimpossible)inadvantagingthe
workorlifeworldsofsome,itmayalter,threaten,ordegradethoseofothers.Dependingon
theirform,scale,andthemanneroftheirorganization,suchtensionscanslow,alter,or
substantiallyderailthedevelopmentofinfrastructure,forreasonsbothgoodandbad.Atthe
sametime,intheabsenceofreliablemapsorblueprints,tensionscanbecomeachiefsiteand
sourceofinfrastructuralchange,innovation,andlearningovertime.Forsuchlearningtotake
place,reliablesystemsforsurfacinganddealingwithtensionsneedtobeputinplace.Such
systemsmayonceagainrepresentanuneasyfitwithexistinginstitutionalstructuresand
incentives.

Conclusion:Thelongnowofcyberinfrastructure
On31December1999,aprototypeoftheclockofthelongnowwasstruckforthefirsttime.
EventuallytooccupyalimestonecliffineasternNevadaandsettochimeevery10,000years,
theallmechanicalclockisthebrainchildofsupercomputerdesignerDannyHillisandthesignal
projectoftheSanFranciscobasedLongNowFoundation.Itsgoal(liketheFoundationspractice
ofaddingadigittothestandardnotationofdates,e.g.02007)istopromotelongterm
thinking,responsibility,andadeepersenseofconnectednessovertime.Aparallelbutmore
modestsensibilityhasmotivatedmuchofourrecentworkandthispaperinparticular:namely,
torelocatecyberinfrastructureinitsownlongnow,andtodistillfromthathistory,andthe
historyofinfrastructuremoregenerally,someroughguidestopragmaticandresponsibleaction
movingforward.

Abouttheauthors
StevenJ.JacksonisanAssistantProfessorandCoordinatoroftheInformationPolicy
SpecializationintheSchoolofInformationattheUniversityofMichigan.
Email:sjackso[at]umich[dot]edu
PaulN.EdwardsisanAssociateProfessorintheSchoolofInformationandpastDirectorofthe
Science,Technology,andSocietyProgramattheUniversityofMichigan.
GeoffreyC.BowkerisRegisandDianneMcKennaProfessorandExecutiveDirectorofthe
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CenterforScience,Technology,andSocietyatSantaClaraUniversity.
CoryP.KnobelisaPh.D.studentintheSchoolofInformationattheUniversityofMichigan.

Notes
1.PaulN.Edwards,StevenJ.Jackson,GeoffreyC.Bowker,andCoryP.Knobel,Understanding
Infrastructure:Dynamics,Tensions,andDesign.(AnnArbor:DeepBlue,2007),
http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/49353.
ThismaterialisbaseduponworksupportedbytheNationalScienceFoundationundergrant
#0630263.
2.ThomasP.Hughes,NetworksofPower:ElectrificationinWesternSociety,18801930.
(Baltimore,Md.:JohnsHopkinsUniversityPress,1983).
3.Wereferheretoalooseknitgroupofhistoriansandsociologistsfromthe1980sthrough
presentwhohavestudiedavarietyoflargetechnicalsystems,rangingfromtelephonesand
railroadstoairtrafficcontrolnetworks.ProminentexamplesincludeJaneSummerton(editor),
ChangingLargeTechnicalSystems.(BoulderColo.:WestviewPress,1994)OlivierCoutard,The
GovernanceofLargeTechnicalSystems.(NewYork:Routledge,1999)RenateMayntzand
ThomasP.Hughes,(editors),TheDevelopmentofLargeTechnicalSystems.(BoulderColo.:
WestviewPress,1988)andmanyofthecontributionstoWieberBijkerandJohnLaw,(editors),
ShapingTechnology/BuildingSociety:StudiesinSociotechnicalChange.(CambridgeMass.:MIT
Press,1992).
4.ThetermisfromJohnLaw,TechnologyandHeterogeneousEngineering:Thecaseof
PortugeseExpansion,In:WiebeBijker,ThomasHughes,andTrevorPinch,(editors),TheSocial
ConstructionofTechnologicalSystems:NewDirectionsintheSociologyandHistoryof
Technology.(CambridgeMass.:MITPress,1987).
5.TinekeEgyedi,InfrastructureFlexibilityCreatedbyStandardizedGateways:TheCasesof
XMLandtheISOContainer,Knowledge,Technology,andPolicy,volume14,number3(2001),
pp.4154TinekeEgyedi,StandardsandSustainableInfrastructures:MatchingCompatibility
StrategiesWithSystemFlexibilityObjectives,In:Sh.Bolin(editor),TheStandardsEdge:Unifier
orDivider.(MenloPark,Calif.:BolinCommunications,2006)GeoffreyBowkerandSusanLeigh
Star,SortingThingsOut:ClassificationanditsConsequences.(CambridgeMass.:MITPress,
1999)BrianKahinandJanetAbbate(editors).StandardsPolicyforInformationInfrastructure.
(Cambridge,Mass.:MITPress,1995).
6.PaulDavid,ClioandtheEconomicsofQWERTY,AmericanEconomicReview,volume75
(1985),pp.332337.
7.StephenGrahamandSimonMarvin,SplinteringUrbanism:NetworkedInfrastructures,
TechnologicalMobilitiesandtheUrbanCondition.(NewYork:Routledge,2001).
8.NationalScienceFoundationCyberinfrastructureCouncil,CyberinfrastructureVisionfor21st
CenturyDiscovery(March2007),http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2007/nsf0728/nsf0728.pdf.
9.SusanLeighStarandKarenRuhleder,StepsTowardanEcologyofInfrastructure:Designand
AccessforLargeInformationSpaces,InformationSystemsResearch,volume7,number1
(1996),pp.111134seealsoGeoffreyC.BowkerandSusanLeighStar,SortingThingsOut:
ClassificationanditsConsequences.(CambridgeMass.:MITPress,1999).
10.BrunoLatour,OnTechnicalMediationPhilosophy,Sociology,Genealogy,Common
Knowledge,volume2(1993),pp.2964.
11.SeeforexampleTarletonGillespie,WiredShut:CopyrightandtheRealignmentofDigital
Culture.(CambridgeMass.:MITPress,2007).
12.MichelSerres,LePassageduNordOuest.Paris:EditionsdeMinuit,1980.

Copyright2007,FirstMonday.
Copyright2007,StevenJ.Jackson,PaulN.Edwards,GeoffreyC.Bowker,andCoryP.Knobel.
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UnderstandingInfrastructure:History,Heuristics,andCyberinfrastructurePolicybyStevenJ.
Jackson,PaulN.Edwards,GeoffreyC.Bowker,andCoryP.Knobel
FirstMonday,volume12,number6(June2007),
URL:http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_6/jackson/index.html

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